Teach teenagers contraceptives use, says Gender minister

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Minister Nyirasafari during a news conference in Kigali recently. File.

There is need to expand birth control teachings among teenagers in part to control teenage pregnancies, the Minister for Gender and Family Promotion Esperance Nyirasafari has said.

Pregnancy among teenage girls in Rwanda increased from 6.1 per cent to 7.3 per cent according to the demographic and health survey 2014/2015.

“Youth are increasingly becoming sexually active,” Minister Nyirasafari said at a workshop in Kigali last week.

“For this reason, it is important that teens are provided with more information on how to do so responsibly by using various contraceptive techniques,” she said.

Her argument resonates with that of child rights advocates who say it is extremely alarming when adolescent girls are experiencing motherhood at a time when their main concern should be far less than those of raising another human being.

Research by different human rights bodies indicate that pregnant girls are pressured to leave school.

Leaving school threatens a girl’s future economic prospects and excludes her from a number of other opportunities in life, therefore perpetuating the cycle of poverty from generation to generation.

Early childbearing also increases health risks for mothers and their newborns, according to health experts.

In low and middle-income countries, babies born to mothers under 20 years of age face a 50 per cent higher risk of being stillborn or dying in the first few weeks as oppsed to those born to mothers aged 20-29, according to the World Health Organisation.

Minister Nyirasafari called on ‘social cluster’ government bodies and non-government partners to move from teaching only abstinence to expose teenagers to information on different forms of birth control, including condoms and other methods of prevention that are available.

She called for more sex and reproductive health information awareness among youth, including how to use different contraceptives.

In an interview with The New Times, Joel Serucaca, a reproductive health officer at Rwanda Biomedical Centre, said that adolescent girls can access any method of contraceptives as long as their health conditions allow.

Some of the medical circumstances considered before recommending contraceptives include history of severe cardiovascular disease, migraines, severe liver disease, HIV status among others.

Dr Serucaca mentioned that the myths of side effects like risking one’s ability to have children in the future when someone starts using modern contraceptives (combined hormonal contraceptives, injectable, implants) before age 18 can be addressed.

He cited the recently initiated Medical Eligibility Criteria by the WHO which indicates that teenagers can use any form of contraceptives of their choice because each contraceptive can be evaluated with respect to particular medical circumstances.

Youth are often afraid to ask adults for contraceptives, he said, so the Rwanda Biomedical Centre and their partners are seeking to strengthen ‘youth corners’ at health centres to make them provide the services effectively.

Kineri Ntore, a family planning officer at Gahini District Hospital, said that normally they receive anyone seeking contraceptives without exception but the youth are reluctant because of cultural and religious beliefs and fear of adults. 

She added that they receive some young girls who want contraceptives but they are shy which can change when they are received in youth friendly environment.

The 2014 World Health Statistics indicate that the average global birth rate among 15 to 19 year olds is 49 per 1000 girls. About 16 million girls aged 15 to 19 give birth every year, most in low and middle-income countries.